As he aspires to build his football program, coach Sonny Dykes doesn’t need to look far to find a model for success.
“There’s a lot of different ways to win in football and sports in general,” he said Tuesday during a media briefing, three days after the close of spring workouts.
“The Yankees have won by having the biggest payroll and the biggest superstars. And the A’s have won by having the smallest payroll, no superstars and a great team.
“You have to figure out who you are. I think right now we’re a little bit more like the A’s than the Yankees. And that’s fine.”
What that means to Dykes and the Bears a year after staggering to a 1-11 record is creating a culture where the whole is bigger than its parts. Cal’s roster isn’t bulging with five-star recruits, but can achieve beyond those expectations, Dykes said.
“We’ve got to kind of embrace that and buy into that. I just believe that is how you sustain a program, by having good people and creating a good culture and getting guys to play hard for each other on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
“I think we’re much further along than we were, but I’m not quite sure we’re there yet.”
As players head toward final exams in two weeks and into their offseason, Dykes sees the emergence of leaders, such as offensive linemen Chris Borrayo and Steven Moore, running back Daniel Lasco, defensive end Brennan Scarlett and defensive back Stefan McClure, among others.
Those players will be responsible for organizing and motivating their teammates in offseason workouts and weight training. The months leading to the start of camp on Aug. 4 will be critical, Dykes said.
“It’s a different atmosphere now than it was last spring,” he said. “I still think we have miles to cover to get us to where I want to be as a program, where guys are invested in each other and playing hard for not just themselves, but for their teammates and the university and their classmates.”
Grading his offense’s progress during spring ball, Dykes said it’s the details that needs honing.
“That’s really what makes offensive football work,” he said. “It’s not the big plays, it’s making sure you get four yards. Making sure you don’t have negative plays, and methodically move the chains. We made a little bit of progress that way.”
On defense, Dykes said he saw spring improvement in effort, confidence and clarity.
“As a result, I think we’re playing a little bit faster,” he said. “I think our tackling was much better. Still needs to improve, but I think it was much better.”
After allowing 45.9 points per game last season, Dykes saw a more confident bunch under first-year coordinator Art Kaufman. “I thought that was important for our program,” he said.
Center Jordan Rigsbee sustained nothing more serious than an ankle sprain during Saturday’s spring scrimmage.
Defensive end Puka Lopa underwent surgery last Thursday to repair ligament damage in his ankle. Dykes described the procedure as simple and said Lopa should be back working out in another month.
Among the class arriving this summer, Dykes said the coaching staff expects cornerback Darius Wright, defensive tackle David Davis and offensive tackle Dominic Granado — all junior college transfers — to challenge immediately for playing time.
He also said freshman running back Tre Watson, who rushed for more than 3,400 yards and 48 touchdowns last fall at Centennial-Corona, will show up determined to make his mark.
“He has a lot of confidence,” Dykes said. “He saw an opportunity to play early here. I think it was one of the things that was attractive to him.”